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Reshaping Empire

Airline Travelers and Colonial Encounters in the 1930s

Chandra D. Bhimull

In the 1920s, Imperial Airways, the first national airline and antecedent of British Airways, launched in Britain. Within a few years, it flew passengers to Britain's overseas territories for the first time. This essay analyzes travel writings from these first flyers. It combines anthropological and historical approaches to expose the advent of airline travel transforming colonial encounters. It argues that the integration of high speed and the verticality of flight dramatically altered how metropolitan travelers related to the landscapes and lives literally beneath them. An anthrohistorical inquiry into the impact of airborne mobility, it also wonders how this new way of moving affected people on the ground, especially those in colonies. Scarcely examined in tandem, regard for both groups illuminates how the airliner's three-dimensional movements remapped racial hierarchies. Consideration of this new geometry of power helps us reimagine where empire and oppression, as lived experiences, are located, fueled, and executed.

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Carrying Religion into a Secularising Europe

Montserratian Migrants' Experiences of Global Processes in British Methodism

Matthew Wood

Migrants to Europe often perceive themselves as entering a secular society that threatens their religious identities and practices. Whilst some sociological models present their responses in terms of cultural defence, ethnographic analysis reveals a more complex picture of interaction with local contexts. This essay draws upon ethnographic research to explore a relatively neglected situation in migration studies, namely the interactions between distinct migration cohorts - in this case, from the Caribbean island of Montserrat, as examined through their experiences in London Methodist churches. It employs the ideas of Weber and Bourdieu to view these migrants as 'religious carriers', as collective and individual embodiments of religious dispositions and of those socio-cultural processes through which their religion is reproduced. Whilst the strategies of the cohort migrating after the Second World War were restricted through their marginalised social status and experience of racism, the recent cohort of evacuees fleeing volcanic eruptions has had greater scope for strategies which combat secularisation and fading Methodist identity.

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Introduction

The middle class-ification of Britain

Jeanette Edwards, Gillian Evans, and Katherine Smith

The articles collected in this special section of Focaal capture, ethnographically, a particular moment at the end of the New Labour project when the political consequences of a failure to address the growing sense of crisis among working-class people in post-industrial Britain are being felt. These new ethnographies of social class in Britain reveal not only disenchantment and disenfranchisement, but also incisive and critical commentary on the shifting and often surprising forms and experiences of contemporary class relations. Here we trace the emergence of controversies surrounding the category “white working class“ and what it has come to stand for, which includes the vilification of people whose political, economic and social standing has been systematically eroded by the economic policies and political strategies of both Conservative and New Labour governments. The specificities of class discourse in Britain are also located relative to broader changes that have occurred across Europe with the rise of “cultural fundamentalisms“ and a populist politics espousing neo-nationalist rhetorics of ethnic solidarity. This selection of recent ethnographies holds up a mirror to a rapidly changing political landscape in Britain. It reveals how post-Thatcherite discourses of “the individual“, “the market“, “social mobility“ and “choice“ have failed a significant proportion of the working-class population. Moreover, it shows how well anthropology can capture the subtle and complex forms of collectivity through which people find meaning in times of change.

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Resistance, Rebirth, and Redemption

The Rhetoric of White Supremacy in Post-Civil War Louisiana

Marek D. Steedman

Did white supremacists successfully appeal to a right of resistance in Louisiana in the 1870s? I argue that they did. White supremacists self-consciously defended their own actions within the framework of an Anglo-American discourse of resistance against tyrannical government, and they broadly succeeded in convincing fellow (white) citizens. Can we deny them the cover of legitimacy this tradition affords? We might suggest that a right to resist is rendered void by the fact that white supremacists were resisting constitutional democracy itself. I argue against this strategy (or, more precisely, for a right to resist constitutional democratic government), and suggest that the problem is not what white supremacists were fighting against. The right to resist is bound up with a defense of the just demands of the people, and this claim, as articulated by white supremacists, rests on decidedly shaky ground. Deciding the issue, however, is a matter of political contestation.

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An Afternoon of Productive Play with Problematic Dolls

The Importance of Foregrounding Children's Voices in Research

Rebecca C. Hains

Bratz dolls, popular among pre-adolescent girls, have been the subject of widespread criticism. Many scholars, activists, educators, and parents have argued that the scantily clad fashion dolls contribute to the sexualization of girls that has been decried by the American Psychological Association, among others. As is often the case in studies of girls' popular culture, however, these conversations about the problems with Bratz have rarely incorporated the voices of girls in the brand's target audience. To address this gap, this article analyzes an afternoon of Bratz doll play by a small group of African-American girls, aged between 8 and 10 years. This article suggests that although critical concerns about Bratz' sexualization are warranted, the dolls' racial diversity may benefit some girls' play, enabling them to productively negotiate complex issues of racial identity, racism, and history while paying little attention to the dolls' sexualized traits.

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An Inconvenient Expertise

French Colonial Sailors and Technological Knowledge in the Union Française

Minayo Nasiali

In the 1950s, French shipping companies began to replace their old fleet of steamships with new diesel ships. They also began to lay off sailors from French Africa, claiming that the changing technology rendered their labor obsolete. The industry asserted that African sailors did not have the aptitude to do other, more skilled jobs aboard diesel vessels. But unemployed colonial sailors argued differently, claiming that they were both able and skilled. This article explores how unemployed sailors from French Africa cast themselves as experts, capable of producing technological knowledge about shipping. In so doing, they shaped racialized and gendered notions about labor and skill within the French empire. The arguments they made were inconvenient, I argue, because colonial sailors called into question hegemonic ideas about who could be modern and who had the right to participate in discourse about expertise.

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Of Pirates, Postcards, and Public Beheadings

The Pedagogic Execution in French Colonial Indochina

Michael G. Vann

While there is a large body of literature on violence in colonial history, most studies have looked at either the bloodshed of conquest, major revolts, or decolonization. Despite the undeniable importance of such moments in the history of empire, an over-emphasis on these events creates a punctuated narrative where violence enters the story line, rears its ugly head, and then retreats. This paper argues that a complete understanding of the colonial encounter requires us to look at the violence in the many days between the arrival of the colonizers' expeditionary forces and the final achievement of national liberation. By examining the intersection between a rebellious band of pirates, a colonial state bent on revenge, and an opportunistic postcard maker, the portrait that emerges is one of a colonial society where violence was not just commonplace but an essential technique in maintaining the colonial order. Be it in the form of criminal violence that challenged French rule, the institutionalized violence of the state execution, or the symbolic reminders of such violence in the form of cheap postcards for sale in the city streets, acts, images, and memories of colonial violence were omnipresent. Importantly, the colonial state publicized its violence, making its ability to punish known to all. This violence terrorized the conquered native population and reassured the vulnerable white community. It is only in this context that other topics in colonial history such as educational reforms, city planning, and economic development can be understood.

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Racial and Social Prejudice in the Colonial Empire

Issues Raised by Miscegenation in Portugal (Late Nineteenth to Mid-Twentieth Centuries)

Patrícia Ferraz de Matos

This article analyses the issue of miscegenation in Portugal, which is directly associated with the context of its colonial empire, from late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. The analysis considers sources from both literary and scientific fields. Subsequently, aspects such as interracial marriage, degeneration and segregation as well as the changes brought about by the end of World War II and the social revolutions of the 1960s are considered. The 1980s brought several changes in the attitude towards Portuguese identity and nationality, which had meanwhile cut loose from its colonial context. Crossbreeding was never actually praised in the Portuguese colonial context, and despite still having strong repercussions in the present day, lusotropicalism was based on a fallacious rhetoric of politically motivated propaganda.

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“A Pretty Girl of Sixteen“

Capturing the Contradictions of Female Adolescence in the Nancy Drew Series

Kate Harper

This article explores the construction of female adolescence in the first three texts of the Nancy Drew Mystery series: The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), The Hidden Staircase (1930), and The Bungalow Mystery (1930). It reviews, briefly, the development of the concept of adolescence and its gendered implications, particularly the association of female adolescent sexuality with delinquency. I argue that the Nancy Drew series rejects the construction of adolescence as a period of turmoil and emotional instability, as well as the prescription of constant adult supervision. The character of Nancy Drew also captures the contradictory messages of female adolescence in the 1930s when girls were represented as sexually attractive and aggressive but were denied sexual desire.

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The “Missing Link”

Space, Race, and Transoceanic Ties in the Settler-Colonial Pacific

Frances Steel

The inauguration of a steamship route between Canada and Australia, described as the “missing link,” was envisaged to complete Britain's imperial circuit of the globe. This article examines the early proposals and projects for a service between Vancouver and Sydney, which finally commenced in 1893. The route was more than a means of physically bridging the gulf between Canada and Australia. Serving as a conduit for ideologies and expectations, it became a key element of aspirations to reconfigure the Pacific as a natural domain for the extension of settler-colonial power and influence. In centering the “white” Pacific and relations between white colonies in empire, the route's early history, although one of friction and contestation, offers new insights into settler-colonial mobilities beyond dominant themes of metropole–colony migration.